The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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TV Guide review

Peeping Tom (1960)

Disturbing, perverse, sadistic, voyeuristic, intensely personal, and truly brilliant, this unqualified masterpiece should be seen by everyone who has an interest in film. Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm), a focus-puller at a film studio, works part-time at a corner cigar store taking pornographic photos of women. One night, he approaches a prostitute on the street, goes to her apartment, and stabs her with the sharpened leg of the tripod of the 16mm camera he uses to record the whole affair. The next morning, he films the police investigation of her murder. Mark rents out most of the house he owns, and Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), a young woman who lives there with her blind mother (Maxine Audley), takes a liking to Mark, and the two become friendly. When he lets Helen watch home movies of him as a young boy, she is horrified to see that the films show his father (played by director Michael Powell) scientifically torturing the boy--part of the psychologist's studies in fear, Mark explains. (One reel captures the young Mark being awakened by the lizard his father has thrown on his bed.) It is not long, however, before Mark kills again. This time his victim is Vivian (Moira Shearer), a dancer-actress working at his film studio. He promises her a screen test, but as the camera rolls, he places the pointy tripod at her throat, and as she watches her reflection in a mirror connected to the camera, she is killed. Increasingly attracted to Helen, Mark tries to repress his cinematic obsession by leaving his camera at home when they go out, but his perverted impulses begin to get the best of him, especially after Helen's mother confronts him. Powell, one of the cornerstones of the British film industry during the 1940s, was vilified by the British press following the release of this picture. The director of Stairway to Heaven (1946) (aka A Matter of Life and Death); Black Narcissus (1947); and The Red Shoes (1948) had made a rich and provocative psychological horror film, but critics in his homeland found it completely repugnant. The film was quickly recut (butchered is more accurate) by the studio and was shown briefly in US second-run houses. It wasn't until 1979, however, that a restored version was released due to the efforts of director Martin Scorsese, a devout fan of the picture. Powell's career never recovered from the critical attacks, and he made only a handful of features and shorts after Peeping Tom. With its incredibly complex structure -- which continually accuses the audience of sharing Mark's sickness -- Peeping Tom is a remarkable examination of the overwhelming power of cinema, and one of the most disturbing films ever made.

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